I Have Thousands of Transactional Friends, But I Don't Know If I Have Any Real Friends

Part of it is because I'm a workaholic. Part of it is because I live in New York. And all of it is me.
Publish date:
September 18, 2012
new york, workaholism, transactional relationships

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." That's one of my favorite quotes from Annie Dillard. I think about it all the time.

And now I would like to tell you a little bit about how I spend my days.

But first, here's years and years of psychotherapy boiled down into a nutshell. Essentially, if you grow up in a dysfunctional home where some of the love is conditional (meaning: mommy and daddy have a lot of issues and, as a child, you are scared to assert your own feelings and boundaries because it's pretty clear that you need to mostly take care of mommy and daddy) you develop something called "attachment wounding." You also develop something known as the "looking glass theory of self-esteem." I'm fascinated by the Looking Glass Theory. Because it nails me, and then it nails me some more.

At its core (and I'm not a shrink, but I do hope one day to interview Dina Lohan over virgin cocktails as Dr. Phil nuzzles in between us), the theory boils down to a few basic points, starting with problems stemming from child rearing.

1. The healthy version of childhood looks like this: You communicate to a child that he or she can express himself and fail and be "bad" or whatever, and that he or she will still be loved unconditionally.

2. If the love is meted out more conditionally (you communicate to the child that he or she must perform, he or she must take care of mommy and daddy, he or she must make sure mommy and daddy aren't mad), then the child often suffers from attachment wounding and, as an adult, develops a somewhat warped greediness for love and affection. (Read: Comedians. Strippers. Screenwriters.)

Grown-ups seeking to subconsciously heal unresolved childhood issues through their adult relationships are grubby for that unconditional love they didn't feel as a child because they were too busy worrying about mommy and daddy. They are needy. Starved. And, often, don't have an inherent sense of trust in their own value and lovability -- and thereby look to others to define their "goodness" or "badness."

That's me.

I've lived most of my life with the Looking Glass Theory of Self-Esteem. When my therapist explained it to me, it blew my whole world open. It was like someone saying I had food stuck inside my teeth -- except the food was a completely fucked way of thinking and my teeth was my entire fucking life.

The Looking Glass Theory of Self-Esteem: You are constantly guessing what someone else thinks of you, and then you determine your own self-esteem accordingly.

Think about that. You don't even know what someone else is actually "feeling." Because that's fucking impossible. Someone could have just gotten robbed and beaten up and then they are rude to you, but then you take a "guess" of what that person thinks of you (he's being mean to me, so I guess he doesn't like me), and then you determine your own self-worth according to that skewed sick pendulum ("I am not a good person").

Conversely, if you get some praise -- if you have this malady -- you can become very greedy for that. Makes sense, right? Because if you are using other people to constantly determine how you feel about yourself, then you are constantly desperate for that praise, validation and affection. And hello, for me: workaholism.

When people point things out to me, if it hits home and I am ready to hear it (versus that therapist in 2006 who kept trying to get me to see that it was not "normal" to blackout multiple times from drinking and so I, boom, stopped seeing her), my life will change. Patterns get disrupted -- in a wonderful way. Because I can then be aware of some of the sickness within myself that is driving poor choices that lead to more abuse and more pain and more repeated patterns that are not so much what I want.

Which might just be the world's longest prelude to why I have no friends. I mean, sure. I have friends. I have like 5,000 Facebook friends. So popular, right? It's just that many of them are all hyper-ambitious workaholics just like me. Some of them are even probably out there seeking addictive validation to prove their worth and lovability via their careers the same way I am.

And the choices that I make every day to spend so much time on my work -- from morning to night and during dreams, sometimes, too -- precludes me from having a lot of real on-the-fly see-you-at-the-club-whatever-the-fuck-people-are-saying-nowadays hangout time. The kind of time where you develop new friendships and cultivate organic relationships where you might talk on the phone and see each other frequently. A woman I know in comedy once told me, "Spend your time trying to get famous or fucked." And I know what she means. I did that for many years. And then it all became so miserable and empty and bleak that I needed some kind of a spiritual connection to remind me of why I wanted to exist in the first place. I wanted to give love, and I wanted to receive love.

All of this is written because on Friday, I decided to reach out to an old friend to see if she would hang out, because I wanted to be around someone who has known me for many, many years. I asked her to see a movie after my first therapy appointment back in New York. But she is really busy and tired and works a lot, too. The time was too late. And I can't handle rejection, or I can, but not very well. My first impulse is for the Pride Monster within to just blacklist her forever and be, like, "I don't need your fucking affection."

So instead of telling her that this hurt my feelings and opening up that can of worms, I just went to a movie by myself. On Friday night. And it was all right. It was OK, I guess. Small windows of time. It can be really hard to Lifebook your friendships with the people who've known you the longest and most intimately -- and sometimes you're so spent by the end of the week that you don't have the mental capacity to let someone new or somewhat new in. So there you are.

The other thing is that I would rather spend time by myself than spend time with people where it's not quite right. I can only handle so much inauthenticity in one day or one week. It just psychically drains me. So that's why I am selective and protective about whom I let in to the precious inner circle of truly knowing me. Where it's not just Song-and-Dance Mandy. I don't want to fight to make things work in my personal life. I'm kind of done trying to sell myself to people. If I'm important, your actions will show it. Not when you want something. Just because I exist. (Unconditionally? Attachment wounding, oh shit.)

Many people who want to hang out with me are people who want to be written about. Or they want to fuck me. They too are trying to get famous or get fucked.

I don't judge that or anything. Both are very worthy goals. But I suppose, maybe like the recognition of some of the battles I fight with that Looking Glass Theory of Self-Esteem, it's helpful for me to see this food in my teeth. That I really do not have as many true friends as I would like. I do think a lot of people like me, and I think a lot of people love me, too, but I think that living in New York can be very hard. It is one person trying to jumpstart their career as a deejay after another. It is one friend who is a regular talking head on TV after another. It is a procession of transactions. An embarrassment of riches of achievement. Little stabs at attempting to achieve immortality in work and in professional status and in branding.

And good for all those hustlers. Hey, man. I wrote the book on it. I'm a complete contradiction in terms. I once had an editor at The Washington Post, a brilliant guy named Joel Garreau, say, "I never thought of Mandy Stadtmiller without the words 'cognitive dissonance'." OK. I'll take that.

And then I'll write an article about it. Instead of making time to hang out.

Because. How I spent today is -- of course -- how I am spending my life.


Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.